Review: We Are All Shipwrecks

We Are All Shipwrecks: A Memoir

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own.


I realized that all day I had actually just been lonely. It wasn’t, I realized, that I wanted to get away from people; I just wanted to get away from these people, because as much as I loved them, I didn’t belong to them anymore.

I don’t read a lot of memoirs, but every once in awhile one will grab my attention. Kelly Grey Carlisle’s We Are All Shipwrecks caught my attention and didn’t let go. Carlisle, a professor of English at Trinity University, has been published in prestigious journals such as Ploughshares and The New England Review, but this is her first book, and she had quite a topic to work with: her childhood.

Carlisle grew up on a boat in the L.A. Harbor with her grandfather and his wife, who made their living from the porn store they ran. She never met her mother, who was strangled when Carlisle was a newborn, or her father, who was in jail at the time. But to singularly define her childhood as eccentric (which it most definitely was) would be a disservice. Perhaps her situation was far from what a lot of people have for childhoods, but she also struggled with many of the things we all do: wanting to please her parents but also wanting to be herself, not fitting in at school, and being embarrassed by her parents. However, the overarching mystery of who killed her mom, and the resulting hardship of being forced to take on too much responsibility at a young age, really drive this memoir, and she delves deep into how that affected her childhood and her future.

At one time or another, we’ve all felt like we don’t belong in our family of origin. It’s just natural, and that is at the heart of this memoir. Not knowing your birth parents, much less how your mother was murdered, would only add to the stress of that, and I could feel how desperately she wanted to learn about them, about her own history. Carlisle wanted to fit into her family more than anything, and it took her many years to realize that instead of forcing herself to fit into a place, she needed to find a place where she fit. She says it beautifully:

“Who you are” also happens after you leave home. You are turning into “who you are” your whole life.

Carlisle drew me into her life, broke my heart, and still managed to leave me with a great feeling of hope for what can be accomplished in a lifetime, against all odds. Happiness and belonging can be found in any life situation, and she is living proof of that. I loved We Are All Shipwrecks, and if you enjoy reading memoirs or mysteries, I really think you will too.


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